Canadiens’ GM Bergevin wise to not compromise team’s future for quick fix

Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin reacts to the Mario Lemieux comments, about their "boring" hockey, says he knew what he meant, and didn't take it as a jab.

It wasn’t so much symbolic as it was explicit.

Marc Bergevin’s decision to carry through with a pre-planned trip to Russia, while his Montreal Canadiens were deep into their worst losing spell of the decade, made it abundantly clear he was more concerned with the team’s future than he was with its present.

Just about everything the general manager said on Monday, in his 18-minute briefing with media members in Vancouver, served to confirm that.

We know the Canadiens are at risk of becoming the third edition of the team in its 110-year history to miss the playoffs for a fourth time in five seasons, but we’re actually going to commend Bergevin for sticking to his long-term plan in the face of that possibility. Because when he says there’s no single trade he can make that will guarantee his team a spot in this year’s playoffs, he’s telling the truth.

It’s not to say that Bergevin doesn’t have any intention of helping the team avoid that undesirable outcome.

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“If we have a chance to improve the team, we’re going to do it,” he told reporters at Rogers Arena.

With 12 picks in the upcoming draft and several quality prospects at Bergevin’s disposal, we don’t believe he’ll hesitate to make a tweak or two if the Canadiens remain in the playoff hunt in the lead-up to the Feb. 24 trade deadline.

But the boss of the Canadiens, who’s in his eighth season as GM, said he isn’t currently willing to mortgage the team’s best futures just to buy a better chance of making the playoffs this season. Especially not while the prices—nearly two months out from the deadline—are as exorbitant as they are.

Translate that as: Even if Bergevin’s job rides on making this year’s playoffs (we don’t believe it necessarily does), he won’t make the kind of move the Arizona Coyotes made on Monday—shipping two high-end prospects in Kevin Bahl and Nick Merkley, along with a middling prospect in Nate Schnaar, a 2020 first-round pick and a conditional third-round pick to rent Taylor Hall and acquire a middling prospect in Blake Speers from the New Jersey Devils.

And yeah, maybe it’s cross-grain on our behalf, but we think that’s commendable. Heck, we’ll even take it a step further and call it smart business.

Whether Canadiens fans want to hear it or not, Bergevin’s right in saying that neither Hall nor any other potential trade target could guarantee Montreal a playoff spot this year. But it’s even more important to recognize he understands that if he starts dealing away players like Alexander Romanov—the player he went to visit in Russia in the first week of December, a 19-year-old he believes will be with the Canadiens next season—he’ll be lessening the chances of this team becoming a perennial playoff contender for years to come.

If Bergevin moves A-level prospects like Cole Caufield, Ryan Poehling and Cayden Primeau for players who aren’t guaranteed to stay with the Canadiens after coming in via trade, he’s all but assuring this team won’t become a contender in the near future. And that would be far more unforgivable than not doing enough to help the Canadiens make this year’s playoffs.

“I don’t believe that I could make a trade today or tomorrow to get an asset that would make us a Stanley Cup team,” said Bergevin.

After watching the Canadiens lose eight consecutive games from Nov. 16 to Dec. 2, and seeing them collect just 16 of 34 available points in the standings in games against non-playoff teams to this point, would anyone argue with him on that?

Didn’t think so.

Bergevin said the Canadiens are right where he thought they’d be after 33 games (currently sitting in third place in the Atlantic Division and in a dogfight that’s bound to come down to the wire in April) so he’s doing what most other teams around him are doing.

“If you look around the league, there’s teams right now that were supposed to be Stanley Cup contenders, (but) they haven’t made any moves,” he said, adding, “you make your team in June and you hope for the best, and you go (with) your young guys, and you go (with) your depth and your call-ups.”

Though it’s much of the same stuff we’ve heard from Bergevin over the past three years—and stuff that will exhaust the fans who (understandably) expect more—it’s the undeniable reality of an NHL that features greater parity than ever before.

“Tampa’s a team that finished with 130 points last year and as we speak they’re not in a playoff spot,” he pointed out.

Bergevin also reminded that the St. Louis Blues went from last place in January of 2019 to hoisting the Stanley Cup in June.

He repeated he’s willing to spend all the money he has available to him under the cap (just north of $7 million according to CapFriendly.com) to improve the team, but added he has nothing currently in the works.

As for internal solutions, Bergevin said the Canadiens need to simplify their game at the Bell Centre to improve on their 8-8-3 record at home.

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“Our (27th-ranked penalty kill) needs to improve,” he added.

“And for us to stay in the fight to make the playoffs, we need to be more consistent. I think (in) overtime we have two wins, five or six losses. We need to get better (and) those areas I’d like to see us improving. But, again, we are where I thought we’d be—fighting for a playoff spot. And that’s where I see our team right now.”

Perhaps a remarkable run for the Canadiens through Western Canada prior to the Christmas break will change that outlook. If they manage to win the majority of these next seven games, including the post-Christmas ones against Tampa, the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes, Bergevin might feel there’s a move he can make that will actually secure them in a playoff position.

But if things go the opposite way, we’re going to have to start looking at who Bergevin might deal off the roster. Because whatever remaining ambiguity there was about where his priorities lie was officially cleared up on Monday.

It’s now obvious the GM is more concerned with integrating the promising players the Canadiens have drafted in recent years than he is with trading them away for immediate help. And given how the most successful teams in the league are built, we believe he’s taking the right direction.

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